Pressure's on Buck to keep Hershey sweet

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Wall Street has been bullish on Hershey Corp. since Rick Lenny took the reigns as CEO in 2001. So that should put Michele Buck, Hershey's new chief marketing officer, in an enviable position, right? No. It puts her smack dab in the middle of a pressure cooker.

Ms. Buck, a former Kraft Foods marketing executive Hershey hired last April as its U.S. snacks division president, was tapped in late November to take on the official CMO title left open in March by Tom Hernquist, now Hershey's new global chief growth officer.

"Since Hershey has been performing at an extremely high level with strong new product innovation and excellent marketing behind it, [Ms. Buck] is under pressure to continue that at a minimum and, ideally, take it to yet another level," said Credit Suisse food analyst Dave Nelson.

Ms. Buck herself acknowledges Hershey's need to "take steps to build on our performance and take it to a higher level," something she said was addressed in the recent restructuring, which, among other shifts, placed her in her new role.

Similar to Mr. Lenny, Ms. Buck is unceasing in her focus on "continuing the momentum for the long-term well into the future" and quickly rattles off a series of initiatives in place to do that, among them new-media forays including E-bay Wrapper Cash (see story, at right), the addition of Internet components to virtually all of Hershey's efforts and big pushes into super-premium and dark chocolate.

Beyond TV

Although Ms. Buck said Hershey still believes in TV-the company lavished $97.5 million of its total measured spending of $120 million in TV during January through November of last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR-she said data suggest that other media, including in-store and on-package efforts as well as Internet and word-of-mouth efforts, are increasingly important. Mr. Nelson noted that, indeed, traditional marketing has decreased as a percentage of Hershey's marketing mix.

Hershey's, for example, was an official candy sponsor of Olympus Fashion Week in New York on behalf of York Peppermint Patties, and similar "exploration of all new-media options, determining which is most appropriate for specific businesses" will continue, Ms. Buck said.

The company's advertising, recently handed to Havas' Arnold, New York, is also getting a lot of attention. Among new efforts is a "Respect the chocolate" push for Hershey's Dark and new Kissables TV ads featuring pop star Thalia for U.S. Hispanic channels.

Also on tap is a relaunch of its Take 5 candy bar, which sold less than $30 million in its first year in food, drug and mass merchandisers excluding Wal-Mart, according to Information Resources Inc., to play up the great taste of the bar. Hershey, moreover, will explore new arenas of growth, including expanding its retail presence, with its acquisitions of super-premium companies Sharfen Berger and Joseph Schmidt Confections.

The plan

* Leverage power of candy packaging

* Play in broader snack market

* Explore new-media options

* Play up dark chocolate popularity

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